The Department of Home Affairs on Friday conceded that it does not have enough personnel to deal with the rise in the number of people arriving for processing at OR Tambo International Airport.
Home Affairs director-general Mkuseli Apleni told reporters in Rosebank that the average number of travellers cleared per month increased from 668 882 in 2015 to 669 621 in 2016.
This increase in demand had put pressure on the immigration counters at the airport‚ he said.
“Even with 100% staff attendance‚ not all the counters can be fully staffed. A 100% attendance is not attainable due to normal human resources factors‚” Apleni said.
“We are currently managing a four-shift system per week‚ reinforcing our day shift to deal with terminals experiencing a high volume of travellers. This translates into a situation where more than 40% of our immigration counters cannot be operational at peak periods‚ given limited staff capacity and the need to balance shift operations over a 24-hour cycle.”
Earlier this week‚ TMG Digital reported that incoming passengers’ experiences of three- to four-hour waits at undermanned biometric capturing system checkpoints at OR Tambo International Airport are earning South Africa a bad reputation overseas.
Comair CEO Erik Venter said the airlines in his stable are “constantly having to re-accommodate” international passengers who miss connecting flights.
Venter also told Radio 702 on Wednesday morning that Home Affairs‚ while aware of the issue‚ appeared to the doing nothing about it.
“Everyone is speaking to Home Affairs‚ including the minister of tourism himself‚” said Venter‚ who added that “they say that they have budget constraints and they don’t have enough staff to man the desks”.
“It’s actually becoming quite severe because people who are coming in from foreign flights are ending up standing in the queues for so long that they end up missing their connecting flights‚” he said.
“So a lot of the tourists who are flying on to Victoria Falls‚ or Cape Town or other parts of the country end up having to be re-accommodated‚ etc‚ on different flights because they just can’t get through the queues.”
Venter said that these passengers are the “visible cases”‚ but more problematic was the perception the delays created abroad.
“We are getting quite a bad reputation overseas with the tour operators and the travel agents who are actually telling people about this and we don’t see how many people end up deciding not to come to South Africa.”
The biometric system‚ which captures travellers’ fingerprints at South Africa’s ports of entry‚ was introduced by the the department in April last year‚ but rolled out in earnest in June this year at 65% of Home Affairs’ counters at terminals for arrivals and transit passengers.
Compounding the problem was the confusion over the requirement for foreign visitors to travel here with unabridged birth certificates for their children‚ said Venter.
“We’re still turning people away‚ still turning families away who arrive without them.
“They were supposed to amend these regulations about a year ago and all that they’ve done is say that it is at the immigration officer’s discretion as to whether they allow people through with or without the unabridged birth certificates‚ so basically the requirement is that you better have one with you‚” he added.
Venter said a task team had been set up last year to address these issues‚ but so far “nothing has come of it”.
“Every tourism body in the country is on this thing‚ we’ve got the airline association‚ we’ve got Satsa (South African Tourism Service Association)‚ we’ve got the minister of tourism…we’ve been after (Home Affairs) Minister (Malusi) Gigaba to get this solved‚ but we’re making no progress‚” he said.